Bibliotherapy

Epictetus-About The Nature Of The Good

Bertel Thorvaldsen 1770-1844-‘Hygieia Feeding Asclepius’s Snake; also called: ‘Strength, Health, Justice, and Wisdom‘.

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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an excerpt from Epictetus ‘Discourses’, from book II, chapter 8, based on Arrian’s lengthy notes of Epictetus’ teachings, here in the English translation of George Long, ‘The Discourses of Epictetus, with the Encheridion and Fragments.’ London. George Bell and Sons. 1890.

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Book II, Chapter 8-About The Nature Of The Good

GOD is beneficial. But the Good also is beneficial. It is consistent then that where the nature of God is, there also the nature of the good should be. What then is the nature of God? Flesh? Certainly not. An estate in land? By no means. Fame? No. Is it intelligence, knowledge, right reason? Yes. Herein then simply seek the nature of the good; for I suppose that you do not seek it in a plant. No. Do you seek it in an irrational animal? No. If then you seek it in a rational animal, why do you still seek it any where except in the superiority of rational over irrational animals? Now plants have not even the power of using appearances, and for this reason you do not apply the term good to them.

The good then requires the use of appearances. Does it require this use only? For if you say that it requires this use only, say that the good, and that happiness and unhappiness are in irrational animals also. But you do not say this, and you do right; for if they possess even in the highest degree the use of appearances, yet they have not the faculty of understanding the use of appearances; and there is good reason for this, for they exist for the purpose of serving others, and they exercise no superiority. For the ass, I suppose, does not exist for any superiority over others. No; but because we had need of a back which is able to bear something; and in truth we had need also of his being able to walk, and for this reason he received also the faculty of making use of appearances, for other wise he would not have been able to walk. And here then the matter stopped. For if he had also received the faculty of comprehending the use of appearances, it is plain that consistently with reason he would not then have beer subjected to us, nor would he have done us these services, but he would have been equal to us and like to us.

Will you not then seek the nature of good in the rational animal? for if it is not there, you will not choose to say that it exists in any other thing (plant or animal). What then? are not plants and animals also the works of God? They are; but they are not superior things, nor yet parts of the Gods. But you are a superior thing; you are a portion separated from the deity; you have in yourself a certain portion of him. Why then are you ignorant of your own noble descent? Why do you not know whence you came? will you not remember when you are eating, who you are who eat and whom you feed? When you are in conjunction with a woman, will you not remember who you are who do this thing? When you are in social intercourse, when you are exercising yourself, when you are engaged in discussion, know you not that you are nourishing a god, that you are exercising a god? Wretch, you are carrying about a god with you, and you know it not. Do you think that I mean some God of silver or of gold, and external? You carry him within yourself, and you perceive not that you are polluting him by impure thoughts and dirty deeds. And if an image of God were present, you would not dare to do any of the things which you are doing: but when God himself is present within and sees all and hears all, you are not ashamed of thinking such things and doing such things, ignorant as you are of your own nature and subject to the anger of God.

Then why do we fear when we are sending a young man from the school into active life, lest he should do anything improperly, eat improperly, have improper intercourse with women; and lest the rags in which he is wrapped should debase him, lest fine garments should make him proud? This youth (if he acts thus) does not know his own God: he knows not with whom he sets out (into the world). But can we endure when he says’ I wish I had you (God) with me.’ Have you not God with you? and do you seek for any other, when you have him? or will God tell you any thing else than this?

If you were a statue of Phidias, either Athena or Zeus, you would think both of yourself and of the artist, an if you had any understanding (power of perception) you would try to do nothing unworthy of him who made you or of yourself, and try not to appear in an unbecoming dress (attitude) to those who look on you. But now because Zeus has made you, for this reason do you care not how you shall appear? And yet is the artist (in the one case) like the artist in the other? or the work in the one case like the other? And what work of an artist, for instance, has in itself the faculties, which the artist shows in making it? Is it not marble or bronze, or gold or ivory? And the Athena of Phidias when she has once extended the hand and received in it the figure of Victory stands in that attitude for ever. But the works of God have power of motion, they breathe, they have the faculty of using the appearances of things, and the power of examining them. Being the work of such an artist do you dishonour him? And what shall I say, not only that he made you, but also entrusted you to yourself and made you a deposit to yourself? Will you not think of this too, but do you also dishonour your guardianship? But if God had entrusted an orphan to you, would you thus neglect him? He has delivered yourself to your own care, and says, I had no one fitter to in-trust him to than yourself: keep him for me such as he is by nature, modest, faithful, erect, unshaken, free from passion and perturbation. And then you do not keep him such. But some will say, whence has this fellow got the arrogance which he displays and these supercilious looks?—I have not yet so much gravity as befits a philosopher; for I do not yet feel confidence in what I have learned and in what I have assented to: I still fear my own weakness. Let me get confidence and then you shall see a countenance such as I ought to have and an attitude such as I ought to have: then I will show to you the statue, when it is perfected, when it is polished. What do you expect? a supercilious countenance? Does the Zeus at Olympia lift up his brow? No, his look is fixed as becomes him who is ready to say

Irrevocable is my word and shall not fail.‘—Iliad, i. 526.

Such will I show myself to you, faithful, modest, noble, free from perturbation—What, and immortal too, exempt from old age, and from sickness? No, but dying as becomes a god, sickening as becomes a god. This power I possess; this I can do. But the rest I do not possess, nor can I do. I will show the nerves (strength) of a philosopher. What nerves are these ? A desire never disappointed, an aversion which never falls on that which it would avoid, a proper pursuit (ὁρμήν), a diligent purpose, an assent which is not rash. These you shall see.

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About Epictetus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epictetus🌿 About Epictetus’ disciple Arrian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrian 🌿 About George Long: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Long_(scholar) 🌿 About Bertel Thorvaldsen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertel_Thorvaldsen🌿 English and Greek texts source:https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/collection?collection=Perseus%3Acollection%3AGreco-Roman
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